Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Involuntary Manslaughter Definition:

A criminal offence contingent on language in any given jurisdiction but, generally, the unlawful killing of a human being without malice in the commission of an unlawful act or in the commission of an act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection.

Related Terms: Murder, Manslaughter

In California, as with most everywhere that the term involuntary manslaughter is used, a charge of murder includes the lesser offenses of voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. This means that if the evidence at trial is insufficient to find murder beyond a reasonable doubt but might otherwise support a conviction as manslaughter, the judge or jury is abled to convict on the lesser offence.

The 2011 Penal Code of California:

"Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice. It is of three kinds: (a) Voluntary - upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion. (b) Involuntary - in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to felony; or in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection....(c) Vehicular manslaughter...."

In Illinois, circa 2011, at Chapter 720 of the ILCS "Criminal Offences", §5/93:

"A person who unintentionally kills an individual without lawful justification commits involuntary manslaughter if his acts whether lawful or unlawful which cause the death are such as are likely to cause death or great bodily harm to some individual, and he performs them recklessly, except in cases in which the cause of the death consists of the driving of a motor vehicle or operating a snowmobile, all-terrain vehicle, or watercraft, in which case the person commits reckless homicide."

In a 1957 case, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v Piper, Justice Woodside of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania wrote, in regards to the law of Pennsylvania:

"Involuntary manslaughter consists in the killing of another without malice and unintentionally, but in doing some unlawful act not amounting to a felony nor naturally tending to cause death or great bodily harm, or in negligently doing some act lawful in itself, or by the negligent omission to perform a legal duty."

In People v Blakely, Justice Kennard of the Supreme Court of California stated the law to be as follows:

"Every person who unlawfully kills a human being without malice aforethought and without an intent to kill is guilty of the crime of involuntary manslaughter .... In order to prove such crime, each of the following elements must be proved: A human being was killed, and the killing was unlawful.

"A killing is unlawful within the meaning of this instruction if it occurred: 1. during the commission of a misdemeanor which is inherently dangerous to human life, namely, the offense of brandishing a weapon; or 2. in the commission of an act, ordinarily lawful, which involves a high degree of risk of death or great bodily harm, without due caution and circumspection."

In People v. Welch, the defendant denied intending to kill the victim, who died of gunshot wounds. Justice Feinerman of the Court of Appeal of California explained:

"The basic distinction in California law between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter is that voluntary manslaughter requires an intent to kill whereas involuntary manslaughter does not. In the instant case there is substantial evidence from which a jury could conclude that the defendant did not intend to kill the victim when he discharged his weapon."

Specific examples of the use of this term to punish specified conduct short of murder are often found in the case law, one of the most common being the use of a motor vehicle. For example, in Illinois v Vitale, Justice White of the Supreme Court of United States wrote that in Illinois, circa 1980:

"Involuntary manslaughter with a motor vehicle (vehicular manslaughter) involves a homicide by the reckless operation of a motor vehicle in a manner likely to cause death or great bodily."


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